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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chinese premier to attend Mekong summit in Laos

BEIJING, March 25 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will pay a working visit to Laos from March 29 to 31, and attend the third Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit in Vientiane, announced Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Tuesday.

Qin told a regular press conference that Wen will pay the visit at the invitation of Lao Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh.

Leaders from GMS members -- Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China -- as well as representatives from the Asian Development Bank will meet at the summit to promote economic, social, cultural, tourism and environmental cooperation within the region.

The 1st GMS Summit was held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2002, and the 2nd summit in Kunming, China, in 2005.

The GMS was established in 1992 to promote economic and social development, irrigation and cooperation within the six Mekong countries.
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Sultan Receives King Of Cambodia In Audience

By Azaraimy HH &Yusrin Junaidi

Bandar Seri Begawan - State ties between Cambodia and Brunei are further enhanced as His Majesty the King of Cambodia Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni began a three-day State visit yesterday to the Sultanate.

The Cambodian king arrived at the IstanaNurullman for an audience with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam and members of the royal family.

Also present were His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah and HRH Prince Abdul Malik.

Before the audience, His Majesty the Sultan and His Majesty the King of Cambodia proceeded to the Royal Dais to receive the Royal Salute, while the national anthems of both Cambodia and Brunei were played. The national flag of Cambodia was also hoisted.

After the 21-gun salute, the Commander of Royal Brunei Armed Forces invited His Majesty the Sultan and His Majesty the King of Cambodia to inspect the Guard of Honour.

This was followed by a second Royal Salute before His Majesty the King of Cambodia was introduced to members of the royal family by the Grand Chamberlain.

Also present at the palace reception hall were top government officials, including the Legislative Council speaker, Cabinet Ministers, Privy Council members,

Deputy Ministers, Police Commissioner, Legislative Council members, Permanent Secretaries at the Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as heads of foreign missions. His Majesty the King of Cambodia was introduced to the heads of foreign missions by the Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

His Majesty the Sultan was then introduced to the delegation of Cambodia.

His Majesty the King of Cambodia is accompanied by Her Royal Highness Samdech Reach Botrei Preah Anoch Norodom Arunrasmy, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Cambodia to Malaysia.

Other delegates include Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Royal Palace Mr Samdech Chaufea Veang Kong Som Ol, Ambassador of Cambodia to Brunei Mr Nan Sy, Senior Minister and Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Mr Veng Serey Vuth, Member of the Senate Mr Puth Khov, Member of the Parliament Mr Khek Sam On, Minister and Director of the Royal Secretariat Mr Srey Nory, as well as the Secretary of State and Chief of His Majesty the King of Cambodia's Secretariat, Mr Ly Song Veng, among others.

Earlier yesterday, His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah welcomed His Majesty the King of Cambodia at the Berakas International Airport.

Also in attendance and welcoming His Majesty the King of Cambodia were Hj Mohd Nor Hj Jeludin, Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as Mr Nan Sy, the Ambassador of Cambodia to Brunei.

At the airport, His Majesty the King of Cambodia was introduced to senior government officials. Also present were the Minister in' Attendance, the Ambassador of Brunei to Cambodia, Officers in Attendance, as well as the Military Aide de Camp by the Deputy Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

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Wife buyers turn to Cambodia after crack down on marriage brokers in Vietnam

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: The brides-to-be are brought down from poor Cambodian villages and herded into city hotels, where they are lined up and put on display for prospective grooms flown in from South Korea.

Over the past four years, some 2,500 women have wedded South Korean men, passing through an underground matchmaking business that few in Cambodia knew existed until recently.

A report to be released next month by the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration sheds light on the growing phenomenon. A crackdown on marriage brokers in neighboring Vietnam is pushing the activity into Cambodia, according to the report, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

"It's become a big business," said John McGeoghan, an IOM project coordinator in Cambodia. "We now see that these marriage brokers are popping up in Cambodia. This is a new market for them, and there's a lot of money to be made."

Potential grooms reportedly pay brokers up to US$20,000 (euro13,000), the IOM report says. The bride's family receives at most US$1,000 (euro650), with the rest pocketed by brokers. It is unclear how many are now operating in Cambodia.

The grooms, mostly factory workers and farmers, have trouble finding wives in South Korea because they are low-income earners, IOM says. Although some of the marriages prove successful, others herald loneliness, broken promises, divorce and sometimes violence, the report says.

Kim In-Kook, a South Korean embassy official, confirmed that the number of marriage visas issued to Cambodian brides soared from 72 in 2004 to 1,759 last year. He declined further comment.

Growing South Korean investment and tourism in Cambodia is also playing "a significant role in the expansion of transnational marriages" between the two countries, the IOM report says.

Cambodia's government publicly acknowledged the issue for the first time this month, apparently alarmed that it could slide into human trafficking, in which women are tricked or forced into marriage.

Earlier this month, the Interior Ministry announced it was canceling licenses of two South Korean companies for engaging in the matchmaking business. The firms had registered as export-import firms to secure legal entry into the country, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng denounced the firms' activities as "human trafficking."

Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke out on the problem shortly after, telling law enforcement agencies to be stricter in issuing marriage certificates "to prevent deceptive activities." He also urged parents "not to be so easygoing" about sending their daughters into brokered marriages with foreigners.

Traditionally, marriages in Cambodia are arranged by parents. Now, brokers are approaching Cambodian families. If interested, the families provide photos of their daughters, which are sent to South Korea or posted on Web sites, the IOM report says.

Brokers arrange 4-to-6 day marriage tours to Cambodia for prospective grooms, most of whom have expressed interest in more than one woman, the report says. The men are ushered through something akin to underground speed-dating, followed by a marriage ceremony.

"Most of the matchmaking occurs in restaurants or small hotels located in or near Phnom Penh," the report says, referring to Cambodia's capital city. "There the men typically select a bride from as many as 100 who are made available."

The women are mostly in their late teens and early 20s, attracted by promises of high living standards and money, the report says.

It cites one marriage in which a South Korean man promised to make monthly remittances to his bride's family, but was too poor to keep the promise. "This caused tension and arguments that resulted in domestic violence," the report says.

The woman is seeking divorce, but has received threats from the Cambodian marriage brokers, who have told her she would be charged US$1,000 if she returns and her parents would be harmed, the report says.

"It's not as romantic and wonderful as (the women) thought it would be," McGeoghan said.
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Cambodian dam plans suffer information drought

By Andrew Nette

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia has rejuvenated old plans to develop the country’s huge hydropower potential, big-ticket schemes to be led by Chinese investors which will simultaneously fill government coffers and have severe social and environmental impacts on local communities.

Like neighboring Laos in the 1990s, foreign donors, electricity-hungry neighboring nations such as Thailand and Vietnam and big business interests in China are all keen to transform Cambodia into a major hydropower generator. Previous plans for developing Cambodia's hydropower potential were put on hold due to political instability and the economic chaos that followed the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

But with recent rapid economic growth rates in the region - including Cambodia, which notched gross domestic product growth of around 10% in 2006 and 2007 - hydropower schemes are apparently back on the national agenda. Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told a donor’s meeting last year that his government plans to make Cambodia into the "battery of Southeast Asia".

A 2003 plan developed by the Ministry of Mines, Minerals and Energy, with the support of the Mekong River Commission, estimated that Cambodia has the potential to generate 10,000 megawatts of energy for internal use and export. Almost 50% of that power would be generated from projects along the mainstream Mekong River, which runs through Cambodia.

Foreign donors continue to play an important supporting role, particularly the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) through its so-called Mekong Power Grid Plan, a plan it has been pushing since the early 1990s which envisages an interconnected power grid across the entire region.

The ADB predicts that Cambodia will initially be a net electricity importer but will become a net exporter once the country's full hydropower potential is realized. However, local and international environmental and other groups are warning that large-scale hydropower development could create serious problems, impacting on some of the country's most pristine ecosystems and reducing water flow and fisheries with major consequences for the livelihoods of thousands of people.

"We are not against development or hydropower," said Ngy San, deputy executive director of the NGO Forum, an umbrella body of nongovernmental organizations. "What we want to do is to ensure poverty reduction and sustainable development, which is also the government's plan.

"We are also working to ensure that Cambodian decision-makers will learn the lesson of other countries in relation to hydropower, and not repeat those mistakes," said San. What is potentially different for Cambodia is the role China is expected to play in developing the resources.

China’s and Cambodia’s political and economic ties have grown enormously over the past decade. China is the nation's single largest investor, and Chinese state companies, often financed by state-owned financial institutions such as the Chinese Export-Import Bank, are the main players in hydropower dam development.

Phnom Penh has identified about 14 priority projects, of which six are under development - all by Chinese companies. For instance, China's Sinohydro is building a 145-meter dam on the Kamchay River in Kampot province, representing Beijing’s biggest investment in the country.

There is no disagreement among officials and activists that Cambodia needs to generate more power. Currently, only 20% of the population has access to cheap, reliable sources of electricity, mainly in urban areas. Meanwhile domestic demand for electricity is estimated to be growing at around 20% per year.

"It is simple - development needs electricity," said Touch Seang Tana, an advisor to Cambodia's Council of Ministers and a fisheries expert. "Power is currently very expensive in Cambodia, particularly in regional areas that are the most disadvantaged."

The government wants to provide services to the rural communities, but this is difficult to do without electricity," he said. "The actual number of people impacted negatively [by dams] is small and overall the entire benefit to the nation is significant. The government has to balance all these factors."

Activists strike a more cautionary note. "The rush to develop our hydropower potential needs very careful study," said NGO Forum’s San. "However, it must include consultation with impacted communities, and comply with all relevant national and international laws. There are some in the government that share our concerns, but they find it difficult to act because they are not the real decision makers."

NGOs complain that the decision-making process in relation to hydropower development lacks transparency. While a plethora of departments and regulatory bodies participate in the process, observers say the agenda appears largely to be set by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, with the direct intervention of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The lack of transparency is accentuated by China’s involvement, critics say. "There is almost no information in the public domain on the financing arrangements for Cambodia's hydropower projects," stated a report released jointly in January by the US-based International Rivers Network (IRN) and the NGO Forum.

"The lack of information from the Chinese dam builders is very disturbing - they do not consult or share information," said Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International in Cambodia (CIC). His organization works in the Cardamom Mountains Protected Forest Area, one of the largest continuous swathes of rainforest left in Southeast Asia and home to a number of globally endangered species.

According to the CIC, there are plans to build a number of dams in the protected area, all by Chinese companies. According to the plan’s critics, the number of hydropower projects scheduled for construction in protected forest areas illustrates the fact that existing laws are insufficient to protect the environment and affected communities.

The situation is particularly serious, notes the report by the NGO Forum and IRN, given that "compared against the already less than admirable environmental and social standards of Western bilateral donors and export credit agencies ... Chinese institutions are noticeably weaker".

One of the projects under scrutiny is the proposed Sambor dam on the mainstream Mekong in central Kratie province. A number of construction options are being studied, including one that would only block between one-quarter to one-fifth of the river and have, according to Council of Ministers adviser Tana, only "minimal" impact.

NGO Forum’s San concedes that there are mixed views about dam-building and the economic impact involved for the potential affected communities. "Is there a real need for electricity in Thailand? Yes. But have the economics been thought through, have any preliminary contracts for power export from Cambodia to Thailand actually been signed? No. We want to see a good economic analysis, including a full cost-benefit analysis before projects go ahead," San said.
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